Why Socrates Died by Robin Waterfield
Dispelling the Myths

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Synopsis

A revisionist account of the most famous trial and execution in Western civilization—one with great resonance for American society today.


Socrates’ trial and death together form an iconic moment in Western civilization. In 399 BCE, the great philosopher stood before an Athenian jury on serious charges: impiety and “subverting the young men of the city.” The picture we have of it—created by his immediate followers, Plato and Xenophon, and perpetuated in countless works of literature and art ever since—is of a noble man putting his lips to the poisonous cup of hemlock, sentenced to death in a fit of folly by an ancient Athenian democracy already fighting for its own life. But an icon, an image, is not reality, and time has transmuted so many of the facts into historical fable.



Aware of these myths, Robin Waterfield has examined the actual Greek sources and presents here a new Socrates, in which he separates the legend from the man himself. As Waterfield recounts the story, the charges of impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens were already enough for a death sentence, but the prosecutors accused him of more. They asserted that Socrates was not just an atheist and the guru of a weird sect but also an elitist who surrounded himself with politically undesirable characters and had mentored those responsible for defeat in the Peloponnesian War. Their claims were not without substance, for Plato and Xenophon, among Socrates’ closest companions, had idolized him as students, while Alcibiades, the hawkish and notoriously self-serving general, had brought Athens to the brink of military disaster. In fact, as Waterfield perceptively shows through an engrossing historical narrative, there was a great deal of truth, from an Athenian perspective, in these charges.



The trial was, in part, a response to troubled times—Athens was reeling from a catastrophic war and undergoing turbulent social changes—and Socrates’ companions were unfortunately direct representatives of these troubles. Their words and actions, judiciously sifted and placed in proper context, not only serve to portray Socrates as a flesh-and-blood historical figure but also provide a good lens through which to explore both the trial and the general history of the period.



Ultimately, the study of these events and principal figures allows us to finally strip away the veneer that has for so long denied us glimpses of the real Socrates. Why Socrates Died is an illuminating, authoritative account of not only one of the defining periods of Western civilization but also of one of its most defining figures.
 

About Robin Waterfield

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Robin Waterfield, whose many translations include works by Plato, Plutarch, and Aristotle, currently resides on a farm in Greece. His career spans both academia and publishing.
 
Published June 8, 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company. 283 pages
Genres: History, Law & Philosophy, Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Why Socrates Died

The Guardian

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Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths by Robin Waterfield Buy it from the Guardian bookshop Search the Guardian bookshop The death of Socrates is a dark episode i...

Feb 14 2010 | Read Full Review of Why Socrates Died: Dispelling...

The Guardian

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Why Socrates Died : Dispelling the Myths by Robin Waterfield Find this on the Guardian bookshop Search the Guardian bookshop Robin Waterfield, in Why S...

Feb 28 2009 | Read Full Review of Why Socrates Died: Dispelling...

Publishers Weekly

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Of the many introductory studies on the Athenian judicial system, the trial of Socrates, the conflict between Athens and Sparta and the reasons that democracy gave way to oligarchy in Athens, this is among the clearest, most well-organized and most concise.

Mar 30 2009 | Read Full Review of Why Socrates Died: Dispelling...

The Independent

In Socrates' case, the dialogues of his pupil Plato – more novels-of-ideas than trustworthy documents – set the pattern of outrage and elegy.

Mar 25 2009 | Read Full Review of Why Socrates Died: Dispelling...

Christian Science Monitor

According to Robin Waterfield, though, it was actually more common qualities – innocence, naivete, and maybe a little vanity – that got Socrates into trouble.

Jul 20 2009 | Read Full Review of Why Socrates Died: Dispelling...

Historical Novel Society

Socrates was tried and put to death in 399 BCE by his fellow Athenians, events that have subsequently become iconic.

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truthdig

The lawlessness of the powerful came in with Bush, and is continuing with Obama.

Jan 23 2009 | Read Full Review of Why Socrates Died: Dispelling...

truthdig

He ( Ford ) stated that when it was decided to go with the single bullet theory ( for expediency and for the good of the country of course ) they descovered there was one itty bitty problem .

Apr 28 2009 | Read Full Review of Why Socrates Died: Dispelling...

truthdig

Dostoyesvsky got it wrong when in The Grand Inquisitor he has the corrupt cardinal say that mystery and spetacle will rule in the future - in fact mystery is to not be allowed anywhere in the human heart - western civilization (sic.) has always been in the hands of the mystery haters, the death l...

Apr 02 2009 | Read Full Review of Why Socrates Died: Dispelling...

truthdig

McLendon, February 19, 2008 at 2:42 am Link to this comment.

Feb 18 2008 | Read Full Review of Why Socrates Died: Dispelling...

truthdig

If, in 399 B.C., the citizens were angry with themselves for losing the war and turned on a likely scapegoat, they may have been hardly less riled by a talkative scold whose attitude was a mixture of “I told you so” and “You should have listened to me.” Waterfield dresses Socrates in prophetic ro...

Jul 31 2009 | Read Full Review of Why Socrates Died: Dispelling...

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